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Hawaii officials chip away at 60,000-unit housing shortfall

HONOLULU – Housing developers and Hawaii lawmakers are debating how to chip away at the state’s severe housing shortage.

Hawaii is about 60,000 units short of what it will need to house everyone over the next five years, according to a study conducted for the state in 2014.

Developers told a panel of lawmakers last week that they want more financing tools from the government to subsidize housing and infrastructure improvements, and that they wish the permitting process could be more streamlined to hasten the development process.

“We all collaboratively want to create more housing to fill the inequitableness that we have in our environment today,” said Stanford Carr, president of Stanford Carr Development. “What we have here is a crisis situation for years — decades — of talking about it. We need to start doing something about it.”

The Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp. plans to add more than 6,000 rental and for-sale homes to the market between now and 2020, and there’s plenty of demand among developers to build even more affordable rentals, said Craig Hirai, executive director.

Gov. David Ige’s budget calls for about $100 million in general obligation bonds for affordable housing development. He suggested $75 million for the rental housing revolving fund, which gives low-interest loans to developers for construction of affordable rentals, and $25 million for the dwelling unit revolving fund, a similar program aimed at developing affordable homes for purchase.

But a recent survey of housing developers found a need for approximately $299 million to develop more than 2,500 rental units, Hirai said.

Rep. Sylvia Luke, chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, had previously expressed concern that any new funding the Legislature gave for the Rental Housing Trust Fund would go to the end of the line for projects and not be tapped for several years, but Hirai said that’s not the case.

Any money the Legislature allocates this year could result in new housing over the next five years, Hirai said in an interview. “If we get it this year, we’ll in all likelihood award all or most of it next year,” he added.

The Hawaii Public Housing Authority could add 1,500 to 2,000 additional affordable housing units to the market as it remodels three public housing projects over the next five years, while the number of public housing units in each of those projects would stay the same, said to Hakim Ouansafi, executive director. But the authority still faces challenges with a repair and maintenance backlog that’s estimated to cost $800 million over the next decade, and about 400 units currently need remodeling or repair, Ouansafi said.

The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which awards 99-year land leases to Hawaiians for $1 a year as part of a federal program, expects to have about 750 lots ready to build single-family homes at a variety of price points by 2017, said Jobie Masagatani, director of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

Cathy Bussewitz, Associated Press


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